By Congressman Paul Ryan
Amidst some major policy setbacks and more grim headlines, critical action was taken this week to get a grip on our fiscal challenges: the beginnings of a bipartisan consensus on addressing the problem. Earlier this week, President Obama hosted a Fiscal Responsibility Summit to engage policymakers in a candid debate on our broken budget process, tax code, health care system, and entitlement programs. Last night, President Obama again emphasized the urgency of needed reforms, and the consequences of continued inaction. Admitting you have a problem is step one in any recovery effort.
On Monday, I was honored to be included in President Obama’s Fiscal Responsibility Summit at the White House. Major stakeholders in both the public and private sectors came together to discuss the fiscal realities we face should be continue to kick the can down the road on entitlements, health care, and budget reform. While I was alone in offering a specific legislative solution to these challenges (“A Roadmap for America’s Future” – www.americanroadmap.org), all agreed that something must be done.
President Obama followed Monday’s summit with a strong call for action on Tuesday night’s address to Congress. In his address, President Obama provided an accurate, sober assessment of today’s challenges, from the ongoing financial crisis and mounting job losses to our unsustainable fiscal path from the looming explosion of entitlement spending. With the retirement of the baby boom generation and health care costs continuing to spiral out of control, the social insurance strategies from the 20th century will collapse in the 21st century. Entitlement programs alone represents a $56 trillion unfunded liability.
I applaud the President’s determined efforts to take on this issue. Contrary to past entitlement reform efforts – most notably President Bush’s Social Security reform proposal in 2005 – I am optimistic that we can make great strides on getting actual solutions on the legislative agenda.
Summits, speeches, and discussions are important to serious entitlement reform, and we can’t solve the problems unless we acknowledge and understand the problems. For getting to this moment, President Obama deserves tremendous credit.
Moving beyond talking about our fiscal problems, we need to forge actual solutions to address them. Talk without action is unacceptable. Each year we wait, the problems expand and the solutions get more difficult. Left unchecked, the federal government will double in size in one generation. By time my three children are my age, we will have to pay twice the amount of taxes we pay today just to keep the current government afloat.
The only thing worse than continued inaction is the wrong action. The urgency of the deepening recession compelled policymakers in Washington to act – but their recent haste only made matters worse. Congress took major steps in the wrong direction by adding to our entitlement liabilities and passing a deeply flawed trillion dollar spending bill. In the days ahead, hundreds of billions of dollars in new spending will be rushed through Congress to the President’s desk. A fiscal policy rooted in borrowing and spending is not only ineffective, but it is also irresponsible. Sowing the seeds for an even greater crisis is no solution at all. Action from Washington must begin to reflect the rhetoric from Washington. Economic growth and fiscal responsibility require true incentives to spur job creation and investment, and tough decisions that tackle the fundamental drivers of runaway government spending.
Despite these costly missteps, I remain hopeful in economic recovery. My faith is rooted in the resilience and ingenuity of the American people, who have always risen to the occasion during past crises. This is the unique American legacy: each generation tackles its defining challenge and leaves the next generation better off. By clinging to the status quo, we are leaving our children with a crushing burden of debt and an inferior standard of living. By taking decisive action on fundamental economic reforms, we can restore this American legacy and leave this nation stronger, safer, and more prosperous for the next generation.
Congressman Paul Ryan serves Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District. To contact him by phone in Washington, D.C., call (202) 225-3031. Or visit Paul Ryan at www.house.gov/ryan